Life lessons while Painting with Diamonds

Many months ago, I saw an ad that caught my attention: Paint with Diamonds! The premise was simple: by placing colored gems one by one on a grid, eventually you end up with a beautiful work of act. It reminded me of cross-stitching, except without the cross-stitching 😉

I was really interested, and began browsing the online store. It seemed relatively easy to do, and the results looked amazing. However, each kit was pretty pricey! After thinking on it for some time (no spur of the moment purchase for me!), I eventually bought one off Amazon that was much cheaper. I justified it as a gift to myself, as something that I could do in my spare time. It turns out, I didn’t have that much free time, or if I did, I never got around to working on the Paint with Diamonds kit.

Well, until recently. The pandemic hit, and I was stuck at home a lot. My daughter was very interested in the kit too, and despite my reluctance (read: laziness) to get started, she managed to find a good spot for us to work on it together as a family. My spouse, my daughter, and I put “diamond” by “diamond” down until at last, our work of act was complete!

Completed painting Elsa with diamonds. Sidenote: I’m a huge fan of Frozen, especially Frozen 2.

During the process of completing the Paint with Diamonds kit featuring Elsa, my spouse commented that our process was a little bit like life itself, and I agreed. Then, we decided that it would be something interesting to talk about here, and that’s how this article came to life (like Olaf) 😄

Lesson 1: Learn from others before you

Our Paint with Diamonds kit came with bags of colored diamonds (by the way, the diamonds are actually colored plastic beads), a small tray, an applicator pen thing, and a sticky pad. Luckily, we’re not the first to attempt painting with diamonds, and there are numerous videos on YouTube about how to get started.

Similarly, life isn’t as simple as following a manual to succeed, for whatever success may mean to you. In fact, if it did, then life wouldn’t be interesting. Instead, we should chart our own path, but at the same time, stand on the shoulders of giants, not reinvent the wheel, and learn from other people. I would even go so far to say that there is something to learn from anyone else, either in terms of what to do, or what not to do.

Lesson 2: Take a step back to appreciate the big picture

Paint with Diamonds required us to place a single diamond at a time, following little letters on the sticky pad to indicate which color goes where. Since similar colors are usually clustered together, kind of like anti-aliasing, it took some effort to identify which squares to place the color that I was working on. As I placed each diamond, I was on the lookout for the next location nearby to place the next diamond of the same color, and so on. When I was working on one particular part, all I was concerned about was just that region, so my conscious mind just focused on an area like the picture below, without thinking about how that section fit into the end result.

One region of the Paint with Diamonds, as we were working on it.

Similarly, when we’re heads-down on a task, it’s easy to get focused on the small details to (try to) get everything right. Sometimes, it can cause us to feel overwhelmed. It’s useful, especially at those times, to take a breather, and take a step back. I’ve found that taking a break from a task helps me to find solutions that would not have come to mind if I had kept on plodding at the task, almost like a background thread / my unconscious mind figuring things out for me. In fact, one of my common things-to-do when I get stuck is to take a restroom break, take a nap, or play some games. When I do so, a solution pops into my mind.

Further, taking a step back lets us appreciate how what we’re working on right now contributes (or doesn’t) to the larger picture. One question that I try to ask myself sometimes is: will this matter in a month, a year, five years? By framing the question that way, I let go of “smaller” things that won’t have much impact in my long-term life.

Lesson 3: Just do the next right thing (credit: Anna in Frozen 2)

There are about 12,000 diamonds in the Paint with Diamonds picture of Elsa. It was easy to feel overwhelmed as we were placing diamond by diamond, bit by bit. At some point, we felt a little like the process would never end, even though logically, we would eventually be done with placing the diamonds. Ultimately, we needed to keep on putting the diamonds, and we would reach our goal of having the completed work of art.

Life is similar in some ways. Our journey through life is a series of little steps, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the things we have to do to keep going. In fact, when we feel depressed, we sometimes feel like there is no way out of our current situation. In such situations, one piece of advice that I’ve received is to find one small thing to do. Just one simple goal for the day, such as getting out of bed, or taking a shower. Once we take one step, the next step feels more do-able and we can work our way out of our circumstance.

In fact, that’s part of the reason why I love Frozen 2 so much. In the movie, Anna becomes alone and depressed in a dark cave, where she feels hopeless. Then, she sings The Next Right Thing, which is about taking the next step, and the next, and so on. The song has been hailed as an anthem for dealing with depression, and was inspired by Kristen Bell’s own depression.

Anna in “The Next Right Thing.” Credit: snowytime

Lesson 4: It’s easier to craft a life story looking backward than forward

You’ve probably noticed by now that I keep referring to how Paint with Diamonds requires placing one diamond down after another. Well, that’s essentially all/most of the activity! Interestingly enough, this “simple” action mirrors life in so many ways.

As we placed the diamonds bit by bit, at any one point, it’s hard to say what we were doing. “I’m placing the diamond at (37, 101)” would not have been very useful, even if we had come up with a coordinate system and kept track of it. If we took a step back, we might have realized that we were “painting” part of the face perhaps. However, if we wanted to describe our process so far, it was hard to verbalize what we had done, beyond “We’ve done all of letter A, and some of letter C”, especially since the colors were used all over the picture, so we were never quite “done” with a part like the face, until almost all the colors were done, and by extension, the picture was almost done.

In fact, the description I gave above involves looking backward to what we did over time. Life is similar. As we move forward in life, we typically make decisions of what we do, hopefully towards a larger goal, but not really knowing how things will play out. Instead, if we were to look backward, it’s easier to see how things fit together over time to lead you to where you are today. For example, something like “doing thing A 3 years ago led me to meet person B, who then introduced me to thing C, that gave me an opportunity to do thing D that I’m doing now.”

When I look backward on my life so far, I feel blessed and privileged by the mentors, luck and opportunities, and sometimes serendipity, that have come my way. When those events happened, I had no idea that I would be where I am today. By taking one step at a time, my “life story” makes more sense looking backwards to see how far I’ve come.

Baby Steps in One Year. Credit: Sarah Andersen

Lesson 5: It’s okay to make mistakes, the big picture will be fine

No one is perfect. Even so, sometimes we hold ourselves to perfectionist ideals, and feel upset/bad/angry when we make mistakes. When I placed the diamonds down, there were multiple instances where I placed a diamond on the wrong mark. There were many possible reasons, ranging from me being tired, the colors looking similar, etc. But ultimately, I made mistakes, and that’s okay! If you were to look at the completed picture of Elsa, it’s probably really hard to tell where the mistakes where made. In fact, I don’t quite remember where I placed some purple diamonds where it should have been dark blue (or something like that).

Similarly, I think it’s fair to say that everyone makes mistakes through life. While we may feel upset, and/or have negative repercussions because of them, we should treat the mistakes as learning lessons, and try our best not to repeat them.

In fact, it reminds me of the song Try Everything in Zootopia, and Get Back Up Again in Trolls. I like these songs as they encourage us to embrace failure, and get back up after falling down till we reach our goals.

In conclusion, we enjoyed piecing Elsa together diamond by diamond, and the process gave us time to reflect about life. We liked the process and result so much, that we bought another Paint with Diamonds kit!

We’ve started working on this second kit, and we’re having fun! Perhaps we’ll reflect on more life lessons along the way!

Proud mom, roboticist, software engineer.

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